Sunday, February 03, 2013

Today's research snippet. A spear in the corner: The Assize of 1181

Henry II's Assize of Arms 
In 1181, King Henry II made an 'Assize of Arms.' This was a legal obligation binding all free men of England to swear on oath that they would possess and bear arms in the service of their king and country. To make things clear, the document stipulated exactly what was required of each social strata in terms of the equipment a person should have. Essentially the Assize of Arms revived the old Anglo Saxon fyrd duty, the fyrd being a militia of ordinary people called out in times of need.
So, what were people expected to keep to hand in case of a call out?

1. Landowners of substance. Anyone owning enough land to support a knight's requirements, measured as a 'knight's fee' (earls might have over a thousand of these, whereas lesser nobility might scrape by on just the one or even less), was expected to provide a person with a shirt of mail, a shield and a lance, multiplied by the number of knights' fees he held.

2. Every free layman who is worth 16 marks in chattels and goods should have a mail shirt, a helmet, a shield, and a lance. Every free layman possessing chattels or rents to the value of 10 marks should shall have a hauberk, an iron cap, and a lance. This suggests that an iron cap was perhaps slightly less expensive than a helmet. Certainly when mentioned in the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal, iron caps are always used in the context of being 'lightly' armed. I don't have the Assize in Latin here so can't comment on the difference the translator has made in calling one a 'mail shirt' and the other a 'hauberk. Interestingly, 10 mark people and below are not required to carry a shield.

3. All the burgesses (town worthies basically) and the whole community of freeman shall each have a gambeson (padded tunic), an iron cap and a lance.

4. Everyone had to take an oath before the Feast of St. Hilary to be faithful to the King, here named as Henry II, son of the Empress Matilda. They are to bear arms in his service according to his command. No one is to sell their arms and armour, nor to pledge them to anyone, lend them, or alienate them in any way. A lord is not to alienate them from his men in any way.

5. Anyone who dies, must leave his armour and weapons to his heir who must take them up. But if the heir has not come of age, then the person responsible for them must find someone to bear arms in their stead. (I assume this must also happen if the heir is female).

6. Anyone having more arms than his entitlement, must dispose of them, either to others who do not have the required equipment, or in some other way. Stock piling is not allowed.

All very sensible for the life and times!

Today's research photo: Replica parade shield with gold leaf leopard.  Original is circa 1200.
A bit too bling to keep in the rafters in case of emergencies!

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